Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Sad Farewell to Normalcy

This past Saturday was the day my "old" and "pre-war" life suddenly ended with the death of my German Shepard Sam. He passed away in his sleep peacefully, without pain and at home which was important to me. I grieved and bawled for 24 hours straight and still today think I will never stop grieving. I have since cried more than five times a day each time I see his "spot" in the living room or come across something. Even the thought of him just absolutely makes my stomach drop with grief and the tears begin. Now, before you stop reading and say "what does a dog have to do with PTSD and TBI"....I will get to that.

My husband and I purchased Sam the first year we were together...just shy of 12 years ago....It was during  those glory days of the "glimmer" in the eyes.....the love swelling every time you looked at one another. It was during that time my husband and I were the best of friends, lovers, and well as sappy as it sounds...soul mates. There wasn't a threat of deployment...no threats or mentions of PTSD or TBI. No anger or resentment between us. We picked him up from the breeder and he looked just like a huge solid black baby bear. My husband wanted to name him "Bear" but somehow I was talking about "Sam I am" from Dr. Seuss. Each time I would say it, the dog would come to me so it stuck. Sam as a puppy seemed to want to do so much to help people, but most of all...he was a "mama's" dog. From pup on up, the dog followed me everywhere. Didn't matter what I was doing, he wasn't more than two steps behind me.

When I was sick with my yearly pneumonia...he never left my side and often my husband would have to literally drag him out to take him outside to go to the bathroom with the promise that he could come right back. When I hurt from Rheumatoid Arthritis, he would lay his head on my knees and just nuzzle with me and whine like "I can feel your pain". When I was pregnant with our first son together, Sam laid his head on my belly every evening. When I found out my husband was getting deployed, Sam licked away the tears.....pulled me from depression and made me get up.....he gave me a reason not to sit around and give up because my husband was gone. He made me feel secure when he was near, scared away many many annoying sales people who showed up at the door (snicker snicker)...and most importantly, he loved me with that unconditional love. When my middle son was born, I was concerned about the dog and the baby together but Sam took to him right off. While the baby was napping in his crib, Sam would lay there on the floor and alert me at even the slightest of whimpers. To call him amazing, would still not seem justifying enough. When my third son was born, Sam would lay the same way beside both...almost like he was saying "hey, I got your back...no worries". Poor dog would be hit with so many toys, ears pulled...tail stepped on but never once let a growl out.

Sam loved to "hold hands" so to speak. He was a large breed with paws the size of a lion it seemed. He would come sit beside me, butt on the floor and place one paw on top of my hands. He loved me reaching over and placing my other hand on top of his and there we sat. Sometimes Sam was the best friend I didn't have, or my love muffin when I needed someone the most. As our children grew up around him, Sam became so over protective of them it was hard to even let the kids go outside without him. He watched them like hawks and being the large giant he was....never barked his fullest around them and was gentle. I don't know how he knew, but he just seemed to always know when something was wrong or the kids were in trouble.

When my husband deployed, my beloved dog grieved the absence of my husband so badly he actually had to go on an anti-depressant. It is common with German Sheps to have separation anxiety with their owners. We managed to make it through our deployment and all the roller coasters of living the Active duty life. When my husband came home, I think Sam knew then that something was wrong with "dad". He seemed to stick with me like glue, especially during those times that things were so bad and rocky. When my husband would get up in my face or start his yelling and ranting...Sam would literally intervene, sitting on the tops of my feet and get up on his back haunches and let out a slow growl. Often this would back my husband off and calm him down some. When I was heartbroken over some of the stunts that my "pod person" pulled during that first two years home....Sam just knew when I needed him the most.

We bought our first home together finally after many years of renting. I knew Sam would love it out here in the country and could run and run. It seemed though, Sam changed just like my husband did and just wouldn't get up and go anymore. After many many tests, diagnosis and such...he was diagnosed with cancer and kidney failure. Selfishly, I guess I should have put him down then but when I went to do it....he just looked at me like "please just a little while longer....not here". So after many medications and tons of pain pills...he died here at home with his family. I feel so horribly guilty although I think it was the right decision. He wasn't in pain and unless you knew him eleven years ago, you probably wouldn't even know he was ill. He seemed happier when I took him home for the last time. I never knew but a few things he hated besides pickles, taking his picture and of course...the Vet's office. I knew he hated being there and wanted to just go home.

I know it's hard losing such a close family pet and for the life of me...I have thought long and hard about Sam since Saturday and didn't understand why I am taking it this hard. I thought to myself  "Hey, you knew this was coming...you have been preparing yourself for a while now" but it didn't make me feel any better. I sat in the tub the other night bawling and then it dawned on me. He wasn't just a "pet". He wasn't just a friend or protector......he was the last piece of normalcy that my husband and I had before the war and him coming home. Sounds strange I know and who the hell knows these days, what normalcy actually means? It was the glory days between my husband and myself finally buried with Sam on Saturday.

Sam was the first way my husband and I "unceremoniously" bonded together, the first purchase together as a couple...the love shared no one could separate. Once I lost my "real" husband in the sands of Iraq, I changed...my children changed...all in a crazy, hectic, sad  roller coaster ride of four years. Sam however, was my constant. I could be mad as hell with my husband and Sam would never judge. He was the one person on my side, and who listened without condemning me for wondering why it was that I hated this "pod" person the Army sent home. It was OK to scream and cry, Sam never flinched....He just stood in with me and showed me more love than I deserved. With his death on Saturday, I felt absolutely devastated. The same as I felt when burying my brother and my mother. I am now filled with this emptiness, restlessness and overwhelming sadness I don't believe could ever be filled again. I have recently this year adopted a Chihuahua named "Taco" which has been an absolute doll baby, but even with as much love as I have for him...it's not a replacement. Two totally different personalities, two totally different lives spent with me.

I think it hit me...I mean really really hit me this week with how much I have lost as a spouse of a wounded warrior with PTSD and TBI....how much my family has sacrificed, lost and changed. Sam was the one single living peice of everything that we had prior to my husband coming back and now that's gone. I could stop and talk to Sam and remember while smiling about something funny my husband said or did.....I know I don't need a dog to do that, but the memory just seems so blurred at the moment. I think what hurt too, was my husband never once shed a tear. We buried him on our property with a stone to follow...we said a prayer to the big man upstairs to keep his soul and love him as much as we loved him....and never once did my husband's emotions show. My pre-war husband would have absolutely gone insane over his death. I know I shouldn't be resentful or angry, but not even one tear? Nothing? Is my husband just so far gone that no emotions touch him anymore? I cry over my "Poopy Dog" as I so fondly called him, but am grieving for the loss of my husband and my relationship with him for the first time in four years at the same time. I am literally mourning my pet's loss and my husband's losses he has endured.

I spoiled Sam with treats, the occasional Jello Pudding frozen pops he dearly loved and a grilled cheese sandwich on his birthday which is tomorrow. I loved him, and I know he knew that I did....but I just don't think that I ever said thank you or loved him the way he loved me. I want to tell him how sorry I am that things went so sour in his life the last four years. I just want to tell him I want him back here at home with me and that I need him. Things have gotten better than what they were four years ago, so maybe he knew I would be ok...I told him just last week when he wouldn't get up too much and just wanted to sleep...that I would be ok and that if it was his time to leave us....it was ok to do just that. Selfishly even now, I am ashamed to say I want to take that back. I want him back with me. I have had such a horrible week since Saturday that all I want is his love right now. I came home today and thought all day long...."can't wait to get home to some cuddling with Sam" only to swallow that heartache once the door opened.

Tomorrow I will be fixing Sam that grilled cheese sandwich as I have done every year he was here. I know in time, the healing comes and the hurt will eventually numb itself to the point of being tolerable. I don't know much about the PTSD service dogs or all the benefits that come from it...but I can tell you after losing Sam I believe more in those types of programs because if they are as unconditional and loving as Sam was...then that has to help a Veteran with PTSD and all the issues. I miss you Sam...more than you will ever possibly know. I hope you are running around and healthy once again...say hi to mama for me. I love you Buddy.

Wishing I was holding your hand......


  1. I'm so sorry, Kat. My pets are just like family members to me. :hug:

  2. Aw Kat I'm so sorry I'm late on this, but huge hugs & prayers for you<3


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